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Mobile apps to help you achieve your health goals

Joanna Kessler By Joanna Kessler

Woman drinking water

Bad habits are hard to break. But good habits can be even harder to make. Whether you want to reduce stress or jumpstart a fitness plan, the key to healthy change may be in your back pocket: your smartphone. “Mobile apps can be powerful tools for optimizing your health,” says Jay Rajda, MD, Aetna's chief clinical transformation officer, who specializes in digital innovation. The free apps mentioned below can be the next best thing to having an encouraging friend cheering you on.

You’re always feeling rushed and stressed.

“Living and working in a city, there is so much stimulation,” says Daniel R., 34, who lives in bustling Manhattan. “I needed to find a way to be more centered and focused.” A buddy told him about meditation apps. Studies indicate that meditation changes the brain and may even reduce inflammation in the body. “Now I meditate every morning for at least ten minutes before I leave the house. Without an app to remind me, I definitely wouldn’t do it,” he says. "I feel more relaxed these days, and I remember to breathe." Many meditation apps also offer sleep programs, for people who have a hard time drifting off at night. Insight Timer and Calm are two apps to try for short, guided exercises.

You need a nudge to drink more water.

Health experts recommend that women drink 9 cups of water per day, 13 cups for men. Naomi B., 22, wondered if her mild fatigue was caused by dehydration. “I like to swim, bike and run. Staying on top of my water intake has always been hard for me,” she says.

Naomi discovered there’s an app for that. Hydration apps ask you to enter your height, weight and exercise level in order to calculate how much you should drink. The programs can remind you to drink up at certain points throughout the day, and allow you to track your progress. Naomi says the app has made her more conscious of maintaining good hydration habits, even when she’s away from her phone. “And I do feel less tired on the days when I drink enough water,” she says. Two apps to explore are Daily Water and Water Drink Reminder.

You’re watching your weight.

“Last year, I wanted to lose ten pounds before summer,” says Ken B., 44, who lives in Fairfield, CT. “I had three and a half months to make it happen.” He started tracking his calorie intake and workouts via a fitness app. “I eat out a lot, and the apps actually list nutrition information for meals at many chain restaurants. So, if I ate a burrito for lunch at Chipotle, I knew just how many calories I’d consumed. It worked well for me.” The proof? Ken met his weight loss goal. Apps like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt help users track their habits and even suggest custom eating and exercise plans.

These are just a few of the many apps designed to support health goals. Downloading a few free versions can help you discover the one that’s best for you.

If you have iTunes, check out more of Aetna’s favorite health apps.

About the author

Joanna Kessler is a lifestyle writer and editor based in New York. She is an avid yogi and believes this is the year she'll finally conquer the crow pose.